12 April 2014 | Joe_Chadowski
A brilliant, creative, slow-burner of a horror movie sandwiched between a lackluster opener and predicable ending
A while ago I reluctantly accepted that we will probably never see a truly groundbreaking horror movie again. A film that is both truly cinematic and gut-wrenchingly horrifying. Hollywood has just become to commercialized, too calculated, and to conveyor belt-like in its approach to horror. Everything is summer blockbuster, Oscar season, and the crap that comes out January-March. Horror has become a get-rich- quick investment for producers. Invest small, obtain profit 10-fold.
But once in a while, a horror film gives us a glimmer of hope. Not redemption, but a little window of light from someone who almost gets it. And the skunkworks group from the Saw-Insidious-The Conjuring clan are to thank for that. They're latest work, Oculus, is the story of a brother and sister who obtain a mirror from their childhood that (they think) was responsible for the possession and murder of their parents. They rig their childhood home with cameras and lights, and wait for the proof that the mirror is possessed to get captured on camera.
Oculus is properly scary and, once you get past the awkward first 20 minutes, has a wonderfully progressive nature to it. Too many "horror" film nowadays deliver an uneven stream of gut-punches in the form of BOOM scares and disfigured faces. Oculus relies on an unsettling tonality, and a quantum state of uncertainty, making it a much more effective scare. The colors and set design is vintage Gothic horror, and the majority of the film is flashback driven which is was a very creative storytelling method and integrates perfectly with the story. And there's a scene or two that were so intense, I was making noises like I was lowering myself into scalding water, and fighting the intrinsic urge to turn my head.
My frustrations are centered on the beginning and the end. The first 20 minutes of the film, which set the story in place, is the only part of Oculus that takes place outside the house. It feels tacked on, ham-fisted in its delivery and lacks narrative, especially against the rest of the film. And given the flashback-heavy story, I believe the setting of the story could've been built into the flashbacks, strengthing the narrative and setting the whole film inside the house, which would make the film feel terrifyingly claustrophobic. And about the ending... It's just clichéd, predicable, abrupt and leaves too many questions unanswered.
Oculus isn't the last word in horror or quality, but it's scary as hell and it does what so few horror films do nowadays; it dissolves the world around you and makes you buy into a ridiculous story. The weak narrative gets a little long in the tooth around the third act, and I was left wondering if the script was ever going to reveal anything worth discovering. And ultimately it doesn't. Much like the never-ending winter we've had, we've had so many lackluster horror films lately, that when an average film comes along it feels like a gift.